A lot has changed within the specialty coffee industry since I began to take part in it five years ago. The lines between 2nd and 3rd wave have blurred as shops innovate and diversify; specialty roasters started popping up in numbers like never before, making great coffee accessible in remote places; and a new instant coffee was born that has surprised everyone with its quality: Sudden Coffee.
Sudden Coffee is the child of two-time Finland barista champion Kalle Freese, a coffee professional originally from Helsinki, Finland. As the story goes, Kalle was sipping on a cup of stale, dull instant coffee while on an airplane and wondered if there was a better way to provide convenient and tasty coffee.
Personally, I’d say he’s found it.
What Does Sudden Coffee Taste Like?
Lauren, my beautiful wife, bought me a round of Sudden Coffee vials in December of last year. I haven’t noticed a decline in quality over the last two and a half months, but I’ve been drinking the coffee sparingly, so a subtle decline may have slipped past my palate. I haven’t seen anything officially indicating how long the coffee powder can be kept.
The coffee that fills the vials I received in December is from the Biftu Gudina cooperative in Agaro, Ethiopia. I am under the impression that they will be switching the coffee periodically (maybe monthly?), though the product page on the website doesn’t specify how often.
This coffee has a milk chocolate aroma, floral flavor, gentle acidity, and a light caramel sweetness. Texture-wise, this offering features a silky, almost buttery smoothness and a medium body akin to an Americano.
I was sipping on a cup of Sudden Coffee last week and thought to myself, “This coffee is really good. What did I make again?” When I realized it was ‘no-brew coffee’, I was pleasantly surprised. I wouldn’t be ecstatic about this coffee if I were to receive it at a specialty shop, but it’s definitely good enough to satisfy my picky coffee shop manager palate.
How Does ‘No-Brew Coffee’ Work?
Sudden Coffee is extremely easy to use. You unscrew the vial lid, pour the dehydrated coffee powder into your vessel of choice, and dilute. You can dilute with hot water, cold water, milk, or any other liquid that tickles your curiosity.
I’ve only used it with hot water, but I’ve heard of people enjoying it in the form of homemade iced lattes and iced coffee. The company’s blog even features a cocktail recipe: Suddenly Tipsy.
What’s The Verdict?
I’m very fond of Sudden Coffee and believe it is a significant new product that will continue to rock and shape the instant coffee world. I’ll definitely be ordering some more to keep around for when we leave town and don’t want to lug coffee gear around.
This instant coffee is absolutely worth a try. At $2.40 per cup, it’s not the cheapest coffee you can find, but you won’t beat the convenience at this level of quality. All things considered, Sudden Coffee is very upfront about their costs and why $2.40 is appropriate.
I highly suggest you check out the Sudden Coffee website to learn more about their values and product.
Confession time: I get a lot more coffee in the mail than I write about here on Coffee Brew Guides. Most of the coffees are good, but I’d be wasting your time if I told you about every good coffee I had. Máquina Coffee‘s bag of Nyeri, Kenya was different. It was stellar.
Trust me, this is a coffee roaster you want to know about.
Gabriel Boscana has worked in specialty coffee for over 15 years. He’s been a barista, a green coffee buyer, a roaster, and beyond at different points of his career. He’s worked at some of the nation’s most identifiable coffee brands: Gimme! Coffee, Sightlass, Intelligentsia, and Ritual Coffee Roasters, but they weren’t enough to pacify his long-term dream: open up his own coffee roastery.
The bag of coffee I received from Gabe was, like I said, astounding. The first thing that struck me about the Kenyan peaberry coffee was the juicy body and fruity sweetness. No joke, I felt like I was drinking fresh fruit juice. The notes on the bag were blackberry, tangerine, and molasses, which I thought were spot on.
Máquina Coffee is currently a garage operation in West Chester, Pennsylvania, but I’m sure it won’t stay there for long. The coffee is too great and the brand vision is too captivating for Gabe to be able to roast in his garage for much longer.
An Interview With Gabriel Boscana
Itching for a better look behind the delicious coffee, I sent Gabe some questions.
At what point did you know you wanted to roast coffee for your own business? Was it a long-term goal?
I knew I wanted to roast for myself probably pretty early into my roasting career over 10 years ago. As soon as I knew that the process was a mystery of sorts, but in that mystery I could really connect with the coffee I was hooked. It has been a goal of mine for over the last 10 years, so I guess it’s long term. haha. I was a barista for years before starting to roast, and then from roasting went to green buying (via Intelligentsia and Sightglass) and now back mostly to roasting. Green buying is made easy by having some stellar importers to work with these days.
How are you feeling now? How long have you been roasting and selling? How’s it gone so far? (I know… 3 questions…)
I am feeling optimistic. I love roasting more than anything else I do. It’s solitary, mindful and one of the few times I get to really be in my own head to make something wonderful. It’s like a meditation in many ways. I have been roasting and selling since mid-November, so not very long. I have been roasting for 10 years though!
The response has been terrific. Lots of love from people and friends and family and people I have never met but are buying the coffee because someone they trusted vouched for our quality! It’s been all word of mouth which is strangely fulfilling. Plus, we just have no advertising money anyway.
How are your past coffee jobs influencing your own brand? Are there things you are going to implement that you learned elsewhere?
Good question. Yes and no. I always had an idea of what I wanted to brand to look like and feel like. I would say working for Intelligentsia influenced me the most in regards to making sure the brand is clean and professional looking. I learned a lot in that job. I was the national roasting manager and also bought coffees for them. I am implementing things I learned elsewhere all the time.
The best lesson is honesty. Be honest, even if you risk upsetting someone. Do what you say you are going to do and do as you say. Be good. Be kind. People smell bullshit a million miles away and no form of branding is going to erase a burn. Do good work, for the right reasons not for marketing reasons.
What put West Chester, Pa on the map as a possible place to open a coffee roastery?
Family. I never intended on West Chester. LOL. We were really thinking Philadelphia when we moved to PA. But we rented a place out in Chester County for the Spring and Summer while we looked for a house to buy and ended up really falling in love with the rolling hills, historic homes and the obsession with land stewardship out here. Also, there is NO good coffee in West Chester, so I am starting ona blank slate. Let me remind you and your readers, the roastery is my garage!
I’d love to hear more about how you came up with the idea for your logo.
The logo came from wanting an arresting image, something that makes you stop and really look. The combination of humans (the hand) and coffee (the drop). It is an image that marries the two as coffee is impossible without people and labor and love in many ways. I worked with a great designer out of Philadelphia, Caleb Heisey to come up with something a little quirky but whimsical and meaningful. We are super happy with it.
What’s the end goal for Maquina Coffee?
The end goal is to purchase coffees from the same farms every year as much as possible. To be a TRUE partner with the producers we purchase from and to always maintain a stellar delicious line up for our subscribers and select wholesale accounts. We will eventually need to (hopefully) move our roasting operations to a bigger and more commercially accessible place, but for now we are happy to keep it small and simple. A tasting room would be killer.
The REAL end goal is to do as much good as we can while remaining profitable. There are some projects we are already concocting that would help that goal, we just don’t need to shout it from the rooftops as much as we need to MAKE them happen. Do good for good’s sake.
If you’d like to taste coffee roasted by an industry veteran, I highly suggest you go buy a bag from Máquina Coffee!
Cause coffee companies are not new, but ironically, many of them forget to give care to the thing that will keep them in business: the coffee beans. That’s not the case with the men behind Brothers Coffee, a new subscription service that selects coffees based on their effects on the globe and their quality. January was their launch month, and their promise to deliver great coffee with a side of altruism did not disappoint.
I’ve been lucky to get to try some coffee from Trailhead Coffee Roasters, courtesy of Brothers Coffee, over the last two weeks. The Guatemala offering featured a rich chocolate, honey, and caramel flavor that was quite sweet and balanced. The acidity was just strong enough to highlight a bright floral note to end the flavor experience.
Currently, Brothers Coffee is partnered with Grounds For Health, an organization that treats women with cervical cancer in developing countries who could not get treatment otherwise. Brothers Coffee donates $1 for every subscription purchased to this organization of hope.
Impressed with the coffee quality and dedication to selecting coffees that improve the lives of farmers around the world, I reached to Matthew Little, one of the brothers behind Brothers Coffee, for a brief interview.
An Interview With Matthew Little Of Brothers Coffee
Was there a clear moment that you and Bryan knew you had to launch your own coffee subscription?
I had wanted to find a project to start for quite some time, but I wanted it to be something that helped others. My brother, Bryan, and I had a few conversations about coffee and how difficult it was to figure out where your money was going, who it was helping, and – often more importantly – who it wasn’t helping. We thought there must be a market of people just like us, coffee fans that want to discover new coffee and help others. With these thoughts, Brothers Coffee Company was formed in our minds!
How does a bag of Brothers Coffee help alleviate poverty and ecological harm in producer countries?
What’s so exciting about having a Brothers Coffee subscription is that this answer changes every month. We love finding roasters that are developing new and unique ways of dealing with the problems the coffee industry is facing.
For instance, in January we sent out coffee roasted Trailhead Coffee Roasters that they had sourced through Cafe Femenino, a project that helps farms that are completely owned and operated by women, using a portion of the profits to invest in their communities. Larry’s Coffee, our February roaster, delivers their coffee using biodiesel vans, use solar power, store rainwater for use at their site, and so much more! Brothers Coffee subscribers get to participate in these stories and more each month.
How do you find roasters that are as globally-conscious as you?
What started with a lot of Googling has turned into a giant spreadsheet of roasters! I love to talk to roasters themselves about other roasting companies that they love – making delicious coffee and using their platform for good.
As a storyteller, do you have a favorite story about coffee?
My favorite part of this journey has always been the discovery of new roasters. It’s so exciting to find new projects and initiatives that are doing coffee right. I can’t wait to share with our subscribers all the awesome roasters we’ve lined up and tell their amazing stories.
5. Is there anything you’d like the world of coffee lovers to know?
My brother and I really want the coffee community to learn that if you want the best tasting coffee, it will always be ethically sourced coffee. Why?
When a roaster is paying farmers a good price for their coffee, these farmers are able to spend less time on quantity and more on quality; changing how they grow their coffee year-to-year after hearing the roasters notes and eventually bringing the best coffee possible to consumers.
Subscribers are part of a win-win situation with us: they vote for positive change with their hard-earned dollars, and they get the best coffee they’ve ever had. Unfortunately, there have been many gimmicky coffee-roasters that focus on their mission more than great tasting coffee. We will not select these roasters.
If you’d like participate in making the world a better place by buying coffee from people who care, check out Brothers Coffee!
Drug cartels, human trafficking, and extreme poverty. These are some of the challenges the villages of Northern Thailand face on a regular basis. If you could do something to help, would you? I have good new for you.
Lanna Coffee Co is a coffee roaster with an attached humanitarian foundation that seeks to empower the hill tribes of Northern Thailand. Not only do they source coffee from an uncommon origin and roast it well, they offer hope to the hill tribe communities in the form of fair, sustainable economic development.
The Lanna Foundation partners with the Integrated Tribal Development Program to provide clean water, education, agricultural development, and healthcare – all necessary components for a thriving, healthy community.
How’s The Coffee?
Lanna Coffee Co has a few roast level options meant to please a range of coffee lovers, from snobs (like me) to the easy satisfied. All the beans are of the Catimor variety and grown between 3600 and 4200ft in elevation in the northern province of Thailand. Most crops are processed via the wet method, with a couple exceptions.
Artisan Roast – This was the roast I received, which is tailored to those familiar with the specialty coffee market (which is you, I assume). The beans were light in color and featured a bright caramel flavor with a smooth, sweet floral aftertaste. This is an A+ coffee!
House – A roast for the masses who aren’t so fond of lighter roast coffees. Vanilla and caramel are the flavor notes, according to Lanna.
French – The roast for those who truly enjoy a very dark coffee. Roasty and chocolate are the flavor notes.
I enjoyed the Artisan Roast and thought it to be on par with many of the specialty coffee roasters I have on a regular basis. I find it refreshing that Lanna Coffee Co has options for those who aren’t fond of lighter coffees. They are more interested in selling great coffee to many types of drinkers than sticking to a single realm of roasting.
Coffee That Matters
If you’d like to try excellent coffee from Thailand, I highly suggest Lanna Coffee Co’s Artisan Roast. Not only will you receive a bag of great coffee, but you’ll participate in the liberation of the hill tribes from multiple types of economic and cartel oppression.
Interested? Read more about the Lanna Foundation and order a bag of coffee for yourself or a friend!
When you spend a pretty penny on coffee beans you love and the freshness decays before you can finish them off, it can be very frustrating. I understand the struggle, but I’ve learned to overcome it by following some very simple rules with how I store my coffee beans.
Putting these rules into place in your own home should be no headache at all. They’re very simple, so there’s no reason not to follow them!
See also: Does Coffee Go Bad?
Keep Those Beans Cool, But Not Moisturized
While a cool counter may keep an apple looking nice and tasty, a hot spot right by the stove won’t. The same is true for coffee beans: Heat quickens decay. Keep your precious beans somewhere cool.
You may automatically think the freezer is a good place to keep the heat out and preserve the life of your beans, but another element is at play here: moisture. Too much moisture and the beans won’t grind uniformly; too little and the aromatic oils will evaporate right out of the bean. While we tend to think of the freezer as a dry place, ice formation can make the opposite true for coffee beans.
Play it safe: store your coffee in a cool (not frozen) spot of your home.
The same rays of the sun that feed our world’s plants and keep us from freezing also like to turn our coffee stale. UV rays are also responsible for the quick decay of organic compounds, such as coffee cells, so sunlight is not a good thing for coffee storage.
Thankfully, the solution here is easy: store your coffee beans in a windowless bag or tin.
Oxygen Is The Enemy
Oxygen, my favorite thing to breathe. While it keeps my lungs happy, it causes metal to rust, apples to brown, and coffee to become tasteless. Of every enemy of fresh coffee in the blog post, oxygen is the most malicious.
Curling a coffee bag and clamping it shut will work for about two weeks, but if you think you’ll need longer to finish of those beans, invest in an airtight container.
Your taste buds will thank you later.
Wrapping It Up
Never forget who your coffee’s enemies are: heat, sunlight, and oxygen. If you throw a half-crumpled bag of beans on a sunlit counter, you are sending them to their death. Treat them with love and compassion, and they will do the same to you.
Coffee shops are bittersweet. On one hand, they reveal the flavor potential lying within coffee beans. On the other hand, they make it painfully obvious that our coffee at home is a long way from being where we want it to be. Let’s change that.
Some coffee lovers like the feeling they get when they pretend that there is a high barrier of entree to brewing amazing coffee. It makes them feel so strong and smart to tell people they may as well give up the pursuit of tasty coffee at home.
Don’t believe them. Cafe quality coffee is a goal within reach for anyone willing to do a bit of reading, have a bit of patience, and fail every now and then.
You may have to put some steps in place that seem silly at first. You may have to give your morning coffee ritual a little more attention than normal. In the end, the coffee in your mug will satisfy your taste buds in ways you never knew imaginable.
It All Begins with the Bean
If you follow every other step in this guide perfectly with beans that are not grown, processed, or roasted well, you won’t find what you are looking for. Good liquid coffee begins with good coffee beans. Finding high quality coffee beans is not difficult once you know what to look for.
Look for those “roasted on” dates. Coffee roasters that value freshness and quality in mind won’t be afraid to tell you when they roasted their coffee beans. They won’t try to trick you with misleading “best by” dates.
After that, find roasters that publish the origin information of their coffee beans. If they are vague about the origin, they may be hiding something. If they are proud to give you the name of the region, farm, or farmer, they are excited about what they are offering and are trying to share that excitement with you.
Some roasters I suggest that take great care to source and roast coffee are Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters (Texas), Cat and Cloud Coffee Roasters (California), and Perc Coffee Roasters (Georgia). Basically, any roaster featured in Angel’s Cup.
The aromatic oils in the beans responsible for a complex, delicious taste will evaporate slowly after being roasted. This process speeds up dramatically once the coffee is ground. Get those beans whole bean and as fresh as you can, and don’t grind them until you’re ready to begin brewing to prolong the incredible flavors held within the beans.
Your Most Important Gear: The Coffee Grinder
There is no substitute for a good grinder. If you cannot rely on your grinder to consistently provide you with uniform coffee grounds, you will not be able to make the small adjustments required to make each coffee taste the best it can.
While there are a few tricks to making blade grinders work better, they aren’t ever going to get you to that upper level of coffee brewing you would find in a cafe. Blade grinders merely chop up the beans, giving you coffee grounds with no uniformity. These grounds will not extract evenly and will give you an unbalanced cup of coffee.
Enter the burr grinder.
Burr grinders range from $20 to $2,000. Don’t have a panic attack; we can get you going without breaking the bank.
Hand grinders are capable of incredible precision with a variety of grind sizes for less than $100. I own and high suggest the Kuissential EvenGrind, although Hario and RhinoWares also make well-known, capable hand grinders.
These guys will require a bit of elbow grease, but if you’re looking to save some money, they are the way to go. It usually takes me about 45 seconds to grind enough coffee beans to brew a single mug of coffee.
If you’ve got a few extra dollars to spend, go with one of the electric grinders from Baratza. I use the Virtuoso model on a daily basis, which is the most grinding power you could need at home unless you’re looking to master espresso.
Choosing Your Favorite Brewing Device
At this stage your personal coffee preferences come in to play. Do you like a full-bodied coffee with a complex, rounded flavor; or do find that bright, pinpoint flavors take you to that place of coffee bliss? No answer is wrong here.
Immersion brewing methods allow the coffee grounds and water to sit together for a period of time before being filtered. The final brew is balanced, rounded, and full.
Some popular immersion devices include the French Press, Aeropress, and Clever.
Pour over brewing methods allow the water to flow through the coffee bed and out into a carafe. The final brew has a more crisp acidity that highlights brighter, sweeter flavors, but leaves behind some of the deeper notes.
Some popular pour over devices include the Auto Drip, Hario V60, and Chemex.
I often recommend the Clever to beginners. The immersion brewer has a stopper at the bottom that, when placed upon a mug or carafe, allows the brewed coffee to drain through the paper filter and down into the other vessel. The paper filter and coffee grounds can be easily disposed of, so clean up is a breeze.
It’s made of BPA-free plastic, and is basically indestructible; the paper filter gives you the full flavor of the french press without the grit; and since it’s an immersion brewer, no special pouring technique is needed to evenly saturate all the coffee grounds like would be necessary in pour over methods.
The simplicity of this device compromises no flavor quality. Some of the best coffees I’ve ever had came out of the Clever, and many coffee shops brew with the Clever (including Yellow House). It is a brewing device that is approachable, easy to use, and capable of brewing amazing coffee.
Basic Brewing Mechanics
You’ve got your well sourced and roasted coffee beans. You’ve got a solid, reliable coffee grinder, and you’ve got a brewing device. Now it’s time for the magic.
These brewing mechanics often seem like a mountain that cannot be climbed to new coffee brewers. Though they take some focus to initially understand, using them to brew amazing coffee becomes second nature after some practice.
Water & Temperature
Generally, coffee comes out most balanced when the brewing water is somewhere between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit, or just below boiling. Any lower than that and you risk under-extracting your coffee, giving you a sour and acidic cup.
You also need to brew with water from a source that is not over-saturated with minerals. Calcium often causes a problem and is responsible for muting many flavors in coffee. If you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to check your water source mineral count against the SCAA’s water standards, just buy some purified water and mix a little bit of tap water in with it. That should be about right.
Coffee to Water Ratio
Coffee brewing ratios are some of the least-understood, but most empowering tools a coffee brewer can take advantage of.
Generally, 1 gram of coffee to 15-18g of water is a great place to be. This range of ratios promotes balanced extraction and concentration for a cup of coffee that tastes great without being overpowering or weak. See my guide for using coffee ratios to brew any amount of coffee you’d like.
Don’t pass up ratios! They are easy and life changing.
The best way to measure your coffee and water is using a digital kitchen scale. Volume measurements aren’t very precise because not all coffees weight the same. Mass is the way to go, without a doubt. Need some extra convincing?
Grind Size Adjustment
Adjusting your coffee grind size is another thing that is often overlooked, but it is a non-negotiable. Quality grinders will enable you to make adjustments with ease, giving you incredible control over your brew.
The Clever uses a medium-coarse to coarse grind, meaning the coffee grounds themselves are larger particles than grounds used in other methods. Since the coffee and water sit together over time, the grounds need to be larger so they don’t extract too quickly.
- Finer Grind = More Surface Area of Coffee Bean = Quicker Extraction
- Coarser Grind = Less Surface Area of Coffee Bean = Slower Extraction
It’s all a balancing act. Fine grinds require quick brews (30 seconds for espresso). Coarse grinds need longer brews (4 minute french press). Small grind adjustments here and there are what enable home brewers and professional baristas alike to “dial in” each coffee to discover its sweet spot.
Trust Your Taste Buds
It all comes down to taste, so let your enjoyment of your coffee have the final say. Here’s how you can use your taste to guide you to better coffee:
Over extracted coffee tastes bitter, dull, and lacks any flavor or sweetness. It means you’ve taken too much from the coffee grounds, and need to pull back a bit. You can coarsen the grind to reduce the surface area and slow down extraction. If you’re using a Clever or any other immersion brewer, you can also simply reduce the total brewing time.
Under extracted coffee tastes sour, acidic, and sometimes salty. It means the coffee beans needed to give away just a bit more for a balanced brew; you were almost there! Fine the grind just a bit or brew the coffee just a tad longer to balance it out.
Play with the variables over the course of a few brews to get the hang of how changing them works. Try to only change one at a time so that you can get a better understanding of them one at a time.
You’re Almost There
With a consistent grinder, a brewing device that empowers you as a brewer, and the ability to make small adjustments over time to your grind and ratio, you are just a bit of patience and practice away from being a master home coffee brewer.
Like with anything, manipulating the variables to achieve a full, incredible flavor in your coffee will take a bit of playing around with. Every grinder works a little differently, and every coffee brews a little differently.
It’s up to you to find your ideal grind size range with your particular equipment, and it’s up to you to determine if you would rather extract a little more or a little less from your chosen coffee. Maybe do some experimenting now and then.
What’s your top cafe quality coffee at home tip? If you have any questions, feel free to ask away in the comments or via email!